Sexists, Skeptics, Symbols, and Sepsis

I love when supremely privileged white men tell me about what my chosen labels mean.

Posted on: 2013/11/09

I feel as though I owe the disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be drunk while writing this, but others may actually do so. I’m not abdicating responsibility for my words so much as I am making an observation.

Please, Joss Whedon, stop telling me about words that I have known deep in my body since I was a child.

“I hate ‘feminist,'”says he, presumably understanding much more about the word as a sensual, tangible part of his experience far more than I, a mere female, a mere feminist, a mere person-whom-society-gathers-is-of-the-lady-persuasion can.

At least, he thinks he does.

Joss Whedon, sir, whose Avengers movie I enjoyed a great deal, I am sometimes what you could call a “writer.” I have written my fair share of words, although nowhere near what you have. I have studied the precise shades of words within contexts–of which they are never absent and can never be. I have had every syllable I’ve written carefully scrutinized by every eye to cross it, by partners who judged me inadequate, by commenters who judged me as insufficiently intellectually rigorous, by professors who took every possible care to ensure that I was careful in a way that no amount of precision can make me be despite a passion for rhetoric.

I can tell you about living inside the smallest part of every word, and the smallest part of an identity that makes you fit just that much better. I can tell you about mellifluousness, as a female Marine, as a former third-grader who wanted to be called “JEF,” because that’s what my initials spelled and I sensed it means something different, who waned to be a dude but knew that I never would be (because, despite whatever queerness was bursting underneath my skin, cis-ness was also innate to my identity). Please don’t tell me about what a word means when, despite your being nominally aware of what it means, it will never mean to you what it can mean to me.

“Fem. Is this promising? It’s nice, but it’s strong. It’s a porous letter.” Please tell me more. I will note here that I am a synesthete. (A gift from my father, if you must know.) I will also note that every color, every texture, is informed by my time existing as a person who is unbothered by my being female and perplexed by others’ vexation at said status. Please do. Tell me more about how F is porous, when F is the deepest blue of my deepest blue jeans, impermeable except through the deepest of compassion. “-ist,” because “tonally, it’s like watching a time-lapse video of fresh bread,” because heavens fucking forbid we have thoughts about a thing, heavens forbid we spend our lives developing into things like bread grows into things that are soft but sometimes hard to chew, that burst with flavor that we have to learn to love about ourselves. Don’t tell me about words. I can tell you about the textures and colors of words in ways that a vast majority of people’s senses are not prepared to take in. I can tell you more about what feminism means, academically *and* texturally *and* in the deep blue of “f” and the crimson of “e” and the purple of “m” and the white of “i” and the yellow of “s” and the green of the ending.

The word, altogether, is a bright red that burns my eyes and that hurts me and that always will because I just wanted to fit in before I realized that I wasn’t the only one who never would, and I didn’t want to in this fucking system, that I deserve better, that literally everyone deserve better. It is the red of the blood that my comrades-at-arms have shed in pursuit of privileges that are a part of my everyday life, that they continue to shed in pursuit of those same privileges (I am Texan) and more. It is a red that shames me in my failure to comprehend sacrifice beyond what I already know. “Feminist” tastes like the blood of my foremothers, like the blood of slaves in chains, like something that I will never quite grasp but will never have the sheer, unmitigated gall to say sounds ugly. Of course blood sounds ugly. That blood bought my vote, my right not to be raped by my husband, my right to join the military. That blood bought the rights of (some) women not to be sterilized for having the unmitigated gall of being mentally ill or non-neurotypical or just a shade too brown. Do not fucking impugn it if you do not understand the blood of your own rape flowing between your thighs, if you have never had a child taken from you, if you have never felt the horror of knowing that it is the twenty-first century and you are being punished for having children, or black and female, or of any number of things that may or may not apply to me because any feminism worth its name is not just for me.

I understand things about words and about the way that they feel on my tongue and inside of my eyes and on my skin that you cannot even begin to comprehend as a (presumably) neurotypical  male who has had the world handed to him on a platter because of his combination of white maleness and undeniable talent (which I will not deny, not being that self-defeating, even while I could never get into Firefly as a former waif who has always been mildly nauseated by the entire genre of waif-fu,).

Do not tell me about words. They live inside my body in a way that they don’t for most people because I feel them vibrate and see the colors and feel the constance of having been raped solely for the reason of having been female and okay with sex deep inside of my fucking skin. Please don’t tell me about feminism, please, Joss Whedon.

I knew feminism when I was twelve and read Anne of Green Gables, I knew feminism when I knew that I was Jo March at the age of ten, I knew feminism when I knew that I understood Laura Brown from “The Hours” when I was a pregnant nineteen-year-old (but you would know nothing about that), even when I knew that I was poor because I had the misfortune of getting pregnant before it was dignified to do so (while having the privilege of carrying the best kids ever). I knew feminism before I knew the word for it, and I read it to the fucking skies when I learned what it meant and I hope to cry it, through my pores when possible and through my words when not, because it is my duty to impart to everyone else what I have learned.

I am a person. I am whole. So are you. I deserve better. So do you, whoever you are, even Joss Whedon, with your ridiculous pretensions to understand a word that has been a vital part of my being since before I understood that I was not and could never be one of the boys around me. Lay claim to it or, if you can’t, don’t fucking presume to lecture me or anyone else who has felt the word vibrate in their skin as a manifestation of what they have always known to be wrong with the universe. If you do not understand then, no matter how much you write the guilty male fetishization of tiny women beating the shit out of big men, you need to get the fuck out of the way and let the grown-ups talk. Don’t presume to talk to me bout “genderism.” Give me a world where “genderism” is possible and then we’ll talk. Until then, I know how words, how sounds, how my experiences, feel in my skin, and I don’t need yet another white male in the creative class to lecture me on what it means to touch sounds and to know, from the very beginning, that something was wrong.

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